ILLINOIS, Chicago :: We’re Back

August 8, 2008

No, this isn’t Chicago. It’s Cameroon. But we’re back, and we want to give ALL our love to everyone who drove us through mounds o’ mud, fed us, sheltered us, gave us directions, and everything in between.

peace,

david & megan

CAMEROON, (gorgeous) Momo :: A Day in the Life of Visiting a GHAPE Center

July 1, 2008

megan at Center in Momo, Cameroon

Momo, Northwest Province, Cameroon, West Africa. This is one of our work sites. It’s a tough life.

On days we’re not in the GHAPE office, we’re visiting GHAPE centers far in the picturesque nether-areas of the jungle/savanna. On maps, it’s classified as the latter, but feels like the former.

While there, Megan will patiently wait for loan repayments to come in – apparently by staring at me. After two hours of song, hand-holding, and counting piles of money, we visit project sites of the entrepreneurs. We’ll take photos of their farms, businesses, or animals, and later write their journals and put them online. We’ll admire their pigs, or, in my case, one man’s Portland Trailblazer baseball cap. And at the end of the day, after site visits are over, we’ll even get libations poured by our kindly guide inside an animal horn cup (non-Ivory, I assure you).

Get a feel for it. Click image on the bottom-right for a larger, print-worthy photo of the first shot of the day (look closely for the early morning dew). All others click once to connect to the flickr page for descriptions.

CAMEROON, Bamenda :: General Links, GHAPE, Kiva & Microcredit

May 30, 2008

Expanded July 1: For those that still don’t know what Megan and I are doing at 1000 meters (altitude) and 6-degrees (north, latitude), here are some quick links and a general explanation:

  • Megan’s got a Kiva Fellows blog exclusively for our 3-month stint working for Kiva, which is partnered with a local NGO, GHAPE. Read it. There’s great bits on GHAPE, plucking corn, life in Bamenda, and the epic, mud-laden journey getting here. When they say “bad road” they mean BAD road.
  • On the Kiva website, here’s general info on GHAPE.
  • THE GIST: GHAPE Grounded and Holistic Approach for People’s Empowerment – is an organization that helps to extend Empowerment Credits (microloans) to Cameroonian people in Northwest Province who have no collateral. The text-heavy sign in the photo also provides highlights. The GHAPE head office – conveniently, also where we live – is in the largest English-speaking city in Cameroon, Bamenda. There are over a dozen satellite sites in outlying communities, most set within lush farmland. Every week, GHAPE employees go out to the field to interact with members during center meetings and collect repayments. GHAPE empowers people by providing lines of credit (money), akin to a credit union or bank, but also offers life-skills and community building. (The GHAPE Anthem, sung at every meeting, has each stanza end with, “Goodbye to poverty, Goodbye to Ignorance, Goodbye to HIV/AIDS” – if it’s catchy, it’s because almost all rules/content/ideas/songs come from the local people and founders, not from the outside.) Kiva collects money from anyone in the world, and funnels funds through GHAPE to reach farmers, seamstresses, and other entrepreneurs directly. I think of Kiva as the “money” end and GHAPE as “doer/collector” end in the world of microcredit. Kiva sends volunteer “Fellows” like Megan and myself to like-minded groups like GHAPE – there are many worldwide – and we help where we can.
  • One of our jobs is writing LOTS of journals of Kiva clients. Here’s the first one I did. On this page, skip below the dark photo of Godlove Shu – hey, nice name – and initial bio for the latest information. Unlike blogs, the new info is not at the top. One of our main jobs is to update photos, their loan projects, personal info, etc. We do NOT actually give the money away to people in poverty – that’s the job of the GHAPE field managers – but sometimes they let us count the repayments, which is fun.
  • Megan’s kicking my butt. She’s been getting terrific comment feedback from her journals. Again, skip to the bottom of this page for Megan’s journal and photo of a farmer, Magdalene Mankah, with her son.
  • Does that make sense? Do a search for “microcredit,” and you’ll get the picture – as well as sponsored links to Kiva . They’re from San Francisco, they’re good at buying Google ads.

CAMEROON, Mefou :: Monkeys! “Put Your Hands On Me, You Dirty Ape” *

May 10, 2008

* Quote obviously In Memory of Charlton “from My Cold, Dead Hands” Heston. Planet of the Apes, still a classic.

It’s what you’ve been waiting for.

After vehicular disasters.

After unclaimed persons curbside.

We have MONKEYS! More scientifically, Baboons, Chimps, Gorillas and Drills (wait, those are monkeys).

These we saw at a primate sanctary, created by the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund in Mefou. It’s a wild 45-minute taxi and motorbike ride south of theOur motor ride through 100% pure jungle capital, Yaounde, and with Visa extensions in limbo for several days we ventured outta town (don’t ask! Ok, ask: we finally did get our Visas extended ’til August; so here we’ll stay through July). The Worldwide Wildlife Fund offices in Yaounde told us about 100% wild habitats in the far corners of the Congo basin, but we opted for something closer to get our feet wet – with electrical fencing as a bonus! It’s actually incredible the spacious room they get – several acres per species sanctuary, and they say 1044 hectares of forest, total. Think of little wired jungles surrounded by old-growth forest. The primates are all left behind as babies when poachers kill the mommies or are taken from illegal private “homes”. Most can’t rehabituate, they told us, though some might be able to someday.

Eventually, three days later, we travelled down to one National Park on the south Cameroon coast bordering Equatorial Guinea, Campo Ma’an, which was gorgeous, but the most animal life we saw were monkeys from afar – and we heard a leopard purrrrrrrrrrrr just off the trail. For conservation’s sake, the limited interaction was probably a good thing.

For now, enjoy the photos! Click once on photos for your primate close-ups. Check out the CWAF photo/video gallery here for more monkey shines.

Avi is the chimp flaunting a BA at us. It tries to throw avacado pits at us.The moms saved us from an evil chimp named Avi - so mom-like!!

Gorilla at Mefou - they DO get bigger, but we don\'t have the photos

Ok, all those above was from Mefou. But the week before, we caught some interesting time with monkeys at zoo run by CWAF, mentioned above. Megan, Claire (her friend working for the World Health Organization), and I enjoyed a swell day. But not as swell as this guy’s:

AT zoo in Yaounde, - happy drill monkey

That Yaounde zoo was fairly crazy – the electrical fence went down, and baboons and monkeys literally ran wild. Imagine after seeing lions, hyenas and crocs, you  look up above a cage, and go, “Is that baboon OUT of his cage?” Then the red-butt-cutie climbs down off the cage to give us our answer. Our guide used his wits and advanced knowledge of stone throwing to keep the animal at bay. It was merely curious and harmless (we think). No pics for that – we were on the move. BREAKING MAY 18 NEWS: Los Angeles has the same problem with freedom-loving orangutans (video). Can’t blame this one on constant power outages, though.

One month before, we visited an amazing rehab & breeding center for monkeys, the Drill (monkey) Ranch in Calabar, Nigeria. This is one of the most endangered primate species in the world.  To the right are some materials they offer and below is a this is just one of about 30 monkeys in this mini playland. It was created by people from my hometown, Portland, with help from the Nigerian government (though, they say they have another spot in Limbe, Cameroon, that gets more gov support). They started 3 places total, and you can read more here. The very sweet Boston-based zoo keeper stresses that most employees are Nigerian, and with chimps, too, it’s worth checking out – if you make it through the dreaded 2-day-doomed-rides through Nigeria.

Drill monkey in NIGERIA (not cameroon)

Just in case you still think any animal in a cage is inhumane, (I don’t; many of these animals would be dead or house-slaves otherwise, and for the species, like drills, it’s their chance to be around beyond the next 50 years), consider the plight of this manic monkey below, that sat scared and jittery for 5+ hours of a bus ride from the north of Ghana to Kumasi, the cultural center of the country. If you ever think of getting a pet monkey, don’t. These eyes don’t say “great pet” they scream “get me to a tree – now!”:

in Ghana, how monkeys travel

PHOTOS :: From Beasts to Beauties

May 7, 2008

The Beasts of Burden outside our window in Dakar for 3 weeks!

As of May 7, on my fumbling flickr page, it’s still a bunch of semi-chronological, mostly unrelated Photos from Senegal to the Nigeria/Cameroon border. Crazy bus shots (large farm animals and motor bikes are typical cargo), the giant club made famous by Fela Kuti in Lagos, and photos of our uneventful (“dead”) 24-hour spell in Togo – all are present. But only ONE cute farm animal – a pig – representing Cameroon is present. Captions also fill in the details.

1000s to come. Probably in some boring 4-hour marathon slideshow in Chicago and possibly the West (August 2008? Likely!) Benin, one hiccup ride before Nigeria, may not be represented – sorry.

Megan’s photo coordination of our pics is worthy of Dancing With the Stars. She is making organized, logical, and chronological folders of all our “best of…” shots together, so refer to Megan’s 100s of images with keen captions (as opposed to digital scraps). Beasts of burden and Megan are one thing, but you can’t beat this smile for cuteness factor:

Back story: Before leaving Senegal for the Malian border, we had a 2-hour “pause” on our journey at a road stand when a passenger forgot a bag. Long delays are normal, so you make the best of it. We made friends with the kids selling us bags of frozen hibiscus juice, our first venture outside purified bottle drinks. This girl really dug the Ipod, and lit up to “Good Day Sunshine” by Beatles. Not sure she thought too much of Aphex Twin.

FROM ALL OVER EU/W.AFRICA :: Postcards! Postcards! & More Postcards! (Check Here Often)

May 5, 2008

(Update: New postcards from Burkina “where?” Faso added May 27. Click once on each thumbnail to read the nitty gritty. The one on the right tells 3 B.F. episodes, including a short tale of trying to get into Ghana twice at the wrong border crossing. We thought we could be cavalier and enter – the map had a little icon for “border crossing” – but alas, we got turned back. Twice. More police, more guns, more fun!)

< children rule :: Burkina Faso rules>

(Update: New postcards added May 10. Click once on each thumbnail. Written January in Morocco. Last two on right, yes, “Berber whiskey” (mint tea) and “love camels,” are the same as those at bottom of post, but with face of card added.)

I believe at this point I’ve sent at least one postcard to everyone who sent me their updated address. If you did not get one, um, feel free to flame email me, “Dude, where’s my card?”

Because I obsessively collect images/items on camera, and I don’t really trust the post offices, I’ve taken a photograph of every postcard before I’ve sent them out. This helped in Morocco when it was actually ME losing the card before it went out (sorry, Ami in Chicago). Thus, I have a digital backup that I can EMAIL to people. Touche!

There’s another bonus. I’m collecting all my postcards on this post so people can see a general “what-David-or-Megan-was-thinking-at-X-location” overview of our 7.2 month trek. Elation, frustration, or both, you get it here. Oh, and if this is tacky, I’m thinking the ends justify the means. For one, about 75 percent of my writing is on postcards, not journals or blogs. Also, I’ve blacked out most addresses and names, so I’m not divulging personal info. As Milan Kundera writes in the book Megan and I are finishing, Immortality (Megan has a 5-star review here on goodreads.com) every letter you write can conceivably go out to the world after you die, so why wait? Here’s the dirt.

Plus, most everyone I’ve asked says, “Go ahead and use them online.” More will come later. Click once for full size. On the left is about the so-called “Hollywood” of Morocco, and the right, a top 10 list of things we love/hate on Morocco (mostly love).

CAMEROON, Bamenda :: Religion and Politics

April 26, 2008

Two things one is not supposed to bring up in unfamiliar company or a first date. As it goes, I bring up the topics of Religion and Politics upon occasion on our travels, but scant enlightenment ensues – even though both are inseparable from the people and culture. People don’t praddle on like some Americans, namely me, which is probably a good thing.

But the photos of the holy houses are fantastic. From BURKINA FASO (top-left) you can see an example of a rare muslim mosque created entirely out of mud. This is probably 100 years old.

In Bamako, Mali, we went to Musee National, which highlighted the Djenne mosque in photos and mud scale models; sadly we couldn’t see the real thing. But Bobo in Burkina Faso offered a close facsimile as we walked to see the unholy dance flick in French; Stomp The Yard. I wasn’t impressed by my first ‘moviehouse’ experience. The DVD projection quit 5 times, including in the last 20 minutes, so feel free to send me the ending. Actually, don’t.

As for Politics, I have not heard much opinion on America, other than when I bring up Obama – usually as a means to explain where Chicago is. Chicago is home to Obama, Jordan, and Oprah in that order, and Obama name-dropping helps open folks up. Those that know Obama want him to be US prez. I know, I know, it’s the his-father-is-Kenyan hipness factor. But if he was president, it would make a world of difference to … well, the world. (Not that most voters in the US really care. Isn’t it the Economy, Stupid?)

Currently, I’m in the middle of the anti-government, dissident capital, Bamenda – which is also english speaking in a majority french speaking nation. I love it. If only for the fact that unlike every other counry we’ve been in, the president’s photo (bottom-left) isn’t in every restaurant, hotel, and streetside billboard. This poster was inside the Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria. I haven’t seen one photo of him in Bamenda – outside newspapers condemning his dictatorial rule. In Bamenda, even the opposition party against the 25-year rule of Paul Biya is losing popularity. Mostly because after anti-government strikes that killed over 100 in February (police literally drove people into the river to drown), and the recent amendment to the constitution that eliminates term limits (Paul Biya, a.k.a. President-for-Life) has officially passed, it looks like they’re as feckless as US Democrats circa 2002-03.

Back to the ‘ol USA, I hope we can “all get along BFF style” before November (center photo, edited from Int’l Herald newspaper). Everyone will be happy to know I’m reading more news here than the US. Almost. The $6 Newsweeks, Economists, New African and (also 5 bucks) International Herald are keeping me up-to-date. Also, a handy transister radio has BBC brewing its post-colonial news magic. The jungle won’t keep me in the dark.

Is it me, or is Hillary Clinton showing her true power-hungry colors in this campaign? Megan and I think so. Dismissing the democratic process and pushing for superdelegates to pick her, she said on CNN, “The caucuses are for activists” and “The primaries are one part of the process, but voters don’t really get to know us” (like superdelegates). Really?! It’s really eating away at her credibility, imho.

Speaking of which, perhaps EATING less rice will help the world food shortage? BBC says rice prices have doubled due to demand! Biodiesel may be a problem, too. The UN is now pushing hard on the issue. Haven’t seen evidence of it yet in terms of shortages in any country – bread (wheat) is plentiful, and so is rice.

CAMEROON, Bamenda :: There’s (still) a Body In Front of Our House

April 23, 2008

Megan and I co-wrote this morbid-but-true story together yesterday after seeing a dead body in front of our house and place of work.

It’s still here on Day 2. After the daily rains. It’s beginning to smell.

Here’s a photo outside our work window. It’s the ever-present crowd on Day 1:

Around mid-morning, a photo was passed around of the previous night’s first victim – the man the person on the other side of the dirt mound killed during a cell phone robbery. A chop to the back of the neck. As the story goes, a smaller crowd of anonymous locals took “matters” into their own hands and did worse. I won’t say “the law” because I’m unsure of what that means here.

What happened is clearly socially acceptable.

I’ve asked several people how they feel. Not one person even came close to condemning it, or, conversely, praising it. No “it’s just awful” or anything. It just is. They say, “he was a bad man” and similar justifying sentiments. As one proprietor footsteps from the corpse told me, “If he wasn’t a bad boy, his family would come and claim the body.” If there are strong emotions or opinions, they are closely guarded.

It’s difficult not to think about it, but DO NOT worry for us, or anyone here, as I feel like this is fairly normal. Or if not normal, accepted as the death penalty is in the United States. Yesterday, I asked if anything like this happened before to a smiling, forthright teen who lives in our same complex. She said, “Oh, yes. Definitely.” She recalled an event right outside our work/home address a few years ago that was “much worse.” They caught the supposed criminal, beat him nearly to death, covered him in rubber tires, then burned him alive. That was also for some crime in which “…the police will do nothing, because the criminals will bribe them and they’ll be back on the street in one day.”

She’s not the only one to say this is far from uncommon.

This girl also heard what happened the night of the vigilante killing, as she was up late into the night.

“I heard a yelling of ‘Teefe Mano’ [Pidgin English for ‘Thief’]. Then a fall, and a sound of someone yelling 3 times. Then silence. It was very quick, and thought nothing of it. I didn’t know what happened until my friend came over the next day to go to school together. I couldn’t face it, so I walked the other way up the road. I won’t see it.”

She’s stronger than most of us. As it’s hard not to look. We have photos, but some are not worth putting up. Why take them? It’s some need to document the completely foreign experience. Or our own messed up human nature. We may still put up a photo or two, as we feel it’s “newsworthy” and honest to an extent, but we don’t want to exploit the experience. PLEASE EMAIL US OR ADD COMMENTS on what you should think.

As for a comment from yesterday from a smart accountant coworker, who called this “jungle justice,” it’s not some racially tinged term. Many call it “jungle law” here in the Northwest province of Cameroon, and we are, after all, in the jungle. In the US, do you think I could say “Hey, it’s jungle justice” and leave it at that? But forget it, because it is what it is; and as I googled the term today, CAMEROON is the first story to come up (from 2006):

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/5111106.stm

An excerpt, which is eerily familiar (see anecdote above):

Mistrust

The attackers did not trust the police to bring the suspect to justice.

“Immediately he gives them money, he will be freed,” I was told.

“That is why we make sure we break one of their legs or any part of the body. It is well known that the police take a bribe and let suspects go.”

The same man said it was common for suspected bandits to be beaten to death in Limbe.

“It can happen today, tomorrow and the day after. These thieves are very busy monitoring people to rob. So we, too, are not sleeping.”

As he spoke, more people rushed to the scene, one carrying petrol – apparently to burn the suspect alive.

Another man described the lynchings as “our own way of passing a vote of no-confidence in law enforcement officers and judicial authorities”.

Local TV and radio are awash with reports about “jungle law” from around the country.

So this is Cameroon. 9 out of 10 hours are positive (or at least not painful), and the people are the MOST generous and sweet we’ve met in West Africa. But like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks taught Americans, there’s a dark underbelly to even the most innocent of locales.

Again, the full story is here. With a great New Yorker link about justice and revenge in the comment section, thanks to our friend Natasha.

Peace. Really.

NIGERIA, Lagos to Calabar :: The Nigerian Nightmare

April 5, 2008

Like tales of guns, mobs, and mad drivers? If so, this is the must-read premiere or David and Megan’s “Siskel & Ebert” (or “Ebert & Roeper”) reports when things get really hairy:

http://microconnections.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/the-nigerian-nightmare-heavyweight-boxing-on-the-road/

Some “Road Warrior”-esque Excerpts from the above true story:

David: … Somewhere after the warnings of imminent road robbery and before the military police surrounded our vehicle and scared off an angry mob of 50 with AK-47s, I caught a glance of a ubiquitous regional propaganda poster featuring a politician standing next to a giant torso: “Uyo is Proud of the Nigerian Nightmare.” …

Megan: … It was only 10 kilometers outside of town that Megan had her first panic attack and the situation began to look a bit less ideal. We have seen some crazy driving and some crazy roads in our travels – no less in Nigeria – but the driver of our vehicle was in a whole other category. The following are some quotes which Dave recorded in his journey over the first stage of our trip:

“Dave, get us out of this car right now. This man is going to kill us. I am serious.”  … 

David (somewhere late in the story, just link to Megan’s Microconnections and read it in full): … I was handed the cell phone, I asked, “Is this the police?” Answer: Yes, “Ok, there’s a crowd that’s about to become a riot; do you know where we are? Did the man before tell you?” Answer: A vague affirmation. Exasperated, I say, “Something bad is going to happen. Please come now!” Like many conversations of mine in Anglophone Africa, I think the police understood nary a word, except maybe “American” and “riot.”

PHOTOS :: Belated as Always, but Good Times in Senegal

April 3, 2008

If you’re checking my flickr page in April 2008, you get some Senegal island photos of happier times in February 2008. Sorry, Chicago, if you were enduring a freezing hell.